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Cloverleaf Undone: Is Eminent Domain an Option?

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Cloverleaf Undone: Is Eminent Domain an Option?

On the surface, the deal seems a bit absurd: The developer of Cloverleaf Mall agrees to purchase the mall buildings for $9.25 million and then demolish them, even though the developer doesn't own the land where the buildings sit.

The Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors agreed to just such a deal last week, selling the mall to Crosland Inc., the developer, and agreeing to begin negotiations to purchase the land in question, about 46 acres.

Hailed as essentially a done deal last week, Cloverleaf Mall's redevelopment raises new questions: How many millions in financial incentives is the county willing to kick in? If pushed to the wall, is Chesterfield willing to use eminent domain to gain control of the remaining land?

The county owns the mall and all but 46 acres of the 83-acre site at the intersection of Chippenham Parkway and Midlothian Turnpike. But those 46 acres are critical — it's the dirt on which the mall buildings actually sit.

And the landowner, Millmar Properties, has been in discussions with a potential buyer — but it's not the county. As of Monday, a Millmar spokesman says the county hasn't contacted the company about purchasing the property.

But the Rev. Steve Parson, head pastor of the Richmond Christian Center, has. In recent weeks, the church offered to purchase the land for at least $7 million.

"The church is willing to pay top dollar for that property," says Parson, adding that his church wants only 15 acres to build its new sanctuary and is willing to allow the county to develop the remainder however it sees fit.

Chesterfield plans to negotiate a bit differently. The lease agreement allows the county to make a minimum offer of $4.25 million. If that offer is rejected, a third-party appraiser will help determine an "objective" price for the property, says Tom Jacobson, Chesterfield's director of community revitalization and point man for the project.

If the price winds up higher than $4.25 million, a complex formula will determine how much the county will kick in to make the project financially feasible. Crosland plans to build more than 500 residential apartments and condos and a retail shopping center anchored by a Kroger grocery store in the next four years.

Parson wonders why the county would pay anything.

"Why spend that money? Is it just because it's taxpayers' money?" asks Parson.

Legally, the county may be able to take control of the property via eminent domain, something that Jacobson doesn't want to discuss. When asked if the county would rule out using eminent domain, Jacobson declined to answer.

"I just don't want to comment on eminent domain," Jacobson says. "We have the right to buy the land."

The potential cost raises a bigger question: How much will the county spend to redevelop Cloverleaf into a residential neighborhood with minimal retail?

"It's going to be around a Kroger. It will be your neighborhood center kind of retail," says Brian Glass, senior vice president of retail brokerage at Grubb & Ellis/Harrison & Bates, who envisions shoe stores, maybe an H&R Block. "A nail salon, hair salon, a couple of small restaurants — those kind of uses." S

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